How much should a schoolbag weigh? At long last India’s federal government, various state governments and the country’s powerful judiciary seem to have arrived at an answer after brainstorming and soul-searching for years.
Henceforth they will weigh between 1.5 kg and 5 kg, the Human Resource Development Ministry in charge of education has decreed, via a circular meticulously capping the weight of schoolbags for different classes to lighten the daily burden of millions of children across the length and breadth of the developing nation.
This long-awaited circular, which saw the light of day this week, stipulates that schoolbags of classes 1 and 2 students will not exceed 1.5 kg, range between 2 kg and 3 kg for classes 3 to 5, 4 kg for classes 6 and 7, 4.5 kg for classes 8 and 9 and a maximum of 5 kg for class 10.
Apparently, the class-wise limit has been set by an Experts Group constituted by the HRD Ministry after calculating the weight of textbooks, notebooks, geometry box, stationery, lunch box and even the water bottle traditional schoolbags carry.
R.K. Narayan, one of India’s foremost writers in English, told Parliament after he was nominated as a lawmaker by the President, that “school children develop a stoop and hang their arms forward like a chimpanzee while walking” to expose the youngsters’ backbreaking burden.
More recently, Justice N. Kirubakaran of Madras High Court observed that “children are not weightlifters” to goad the HRD Ministry to save school students from their schoolbags which he referred to as “load containers”. The learned judge’s prodding ultimately resulted in this week’s circular.
Justice Kirubakaran also exhorted schools to focus on classroom teaching and refrain from giving children homework. He said that children have the fundamental right to enjoy their childhood without stress.
“Children should not be overburdened. Children are entitled to minimum sleeping hours as per their age…. which is guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution”, he declared putting his foot down.
Earlier, attempts to pass the Children’s School Bags (Limitation on Weight) Bill of 2006 which advocated lockers in educational institutions so that students didn’t have to carry all their books to and fro, mysteriously flopped on the floor of Parliament.
A recent survey conducted by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India revealed that nearly 70 percent of children in the country below the age of 13 suffered from backaches and hunchbacks due to heavy schoolbags.
The survey also revealed that 88 percent of schoolchildren are forced to carry “nearly half of their own weight on their backs, whereas doctors say that the load should not exceed 10 percent of a student’s body weight to avert spinal deformities.
After the new circular, schools across India are expected to introduce lockers and cupboards as the first step towards the implementation of HRD Ministry’s long overdue guidelines.